She really blew a valve on her last solo effort, 2010's

Humour and the Misfortune of Others

, a terrific, fiery, angry record that seemed to be overlooked by the many fans who had taken to the torch-soul comforts of her 2007 debut album Long Player in a big way.

Now, after some sideline excursions (one impressively experimental with Mara TK; one forgettably dull with a winery tour supergroup of her, Anika Moa and Boh Runga), Smith finally unleashes a third solo outing.

And for all of the fraught recording process as outlined in last week's TimeOut interview, it appears a bit of deadline fever has done Smith good.

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From the opening reggae-rock punch of the title track to the closing caress of the lullaby-soul Dream, this is an album that sounds like Smith is running on first - and best - instincts.

There's raw energy, gritty hooks and volcanic performances in abundance among the 11 songs here, those tracks coalescing into both an engaging go-to-whoa album.

Yes it does quieten down and sweeten up a bit on the disco-cruise of Holding On and the Aretha-soul-like In Love Again and Lady Dee.

But with the hip-hop-shaped bottom end to the likes of the politically minded Poor on Poor, and Make Believe (built around a loop from Ninja Tunes' DJ Vadim) colliding with the guitar-fired dirty blues-like Lead the Way and Older and Younger, there's plenty of fireworks.

Add the emotional centrepiece of Helena - Smith's song for her late friend, Helena McAlpine - and the result is an album that neatly mixes the heartfelt with engaging tunes and musical muscle.

It might not exactly reinvent anything or stretch Smith's stylistic palette, but Water or Gold is still something special. And, by the sound of it, her live set just got one mighty shot in the arm.

Hollie Smith, Water or Gold (Warner)

Verdict:

Mostly gold